What Is Net Neutrality and How It Can Affect Your Business?
The subject of net neutrality has been the topic of many discussions on the U.S. forums and discussion boards since long now. To first understand why many businesses are so upset about the subject, you have to understand what net neutrality is.
What is net neutrality? According to an article in Business Insider, net neutrality prevents Internet providers from dictating the kinds of content users would be able to access online. Instead, Internet providers are required to treat all traffic sources equally. Why is this topic so controversial that the U.S. Court of Appeals had to weigh-in? Because Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast want to charge for use of their networks. Meaning, these providers will have the ability to pick and choose what consumers see online and to then charge content providers.
The internet speed is basically a fixed sum game. If your competition can afford to pay to drive on the fast lane, then by default your small business gets put in the slow lane. The deeper the pockets of the company, the more competition they can speed past on the way to new customers. Right now many small bloggers and start up websites are afforded the exact same opportunity to reach an audience as the big corporations. However, it is important that you understand what net neutrality is and how it can affect you. When you boil it down, net neutrality means that all data is equally accessible via the Internet. This means that regardless of whether you are a small accounting firm or one of the big name international firms, you have equal access to placing information and accessing other information via the web. You must also factor in things like advertising and marketing budgets to get the word out, but in terms of accessibility, you’re on a level playing field with the big dogs. If net neutrality goes out the window, so does that equal accessibility. Some things to consider:
Paying More For Better Access:
No net neutrality means that Internet service providers (ISPs) will be able to create tiers of accessibility, meaning they can start demanding more money for better accessibility. Smaller businesses with tiny budgets won’t be able to compete for access with the larger companies who can afford to pay the new fees. It also means that there’s nothing to stop big companies or competitors from paying ISPs to slow access to other sites, thus effectively putting them out of business.
Limited Access to Content:
ISPs will be able to limit what you have access to base on their own corporate interests. From Business Insider: “For example, Comcast would probably like to promote NBC’s content over ABC’s to its Internet subscribers. That’s because Comcast and NBC are affiliated. But net neutrality prevents Comcast from being able to discriminate, and it must display both NBC’s and ABC’s content evenly as a result. That means no slower load time for ABC, and definitely no blocking of ABC altogether.” If net neutrality is gone, there’s nothing to prevent corporate discrimination like this, meaning your window shopping for vendors may be limited to just those on Rodeo Drive. Your favorite information sources may not be as fully available to you as they are now.
Limited Access For Potential Clients:
While the previous example explained how you would be limited in what you could access (potentially increasing costs for your business as your options dwindle), it works the other way as well. Prospects will now have a harder time finding you as well. Entrepreneur likens this to when you buy cable TV: “Instead of being able to sell to anyone with an internet connection…entrepreneurs would find their customers limited to those who paid for the ‘internet package’ that covers access to their particular website. It would be like your cable TV plan: The more you pay, the more channels you receive.” In essence, your clients may only be directed to window shop Rodeo Drive and not realize there are more efficient and equally effective options like you out there.
Slower Load Times:
So let’s say ISPs don’t altogether block access to those sites that aren’t part of their approved network. That doesn’t mean they won’t try to incentivize you to visit their preferred sites. They can do this by interrupting streaming or slowing load times on websites that don’t pay a premium. The speed and reliability of a site can make or break you. Admit it, you’ve just decided to leave a page when when it took more than a couple of seconds to load. That impatience is universal and could affect traffic on your website. And if you wanted to engage in video marketing and stream on your website, you might be up the creek without a paddle (slowly, very slowly drifting).
Leveraging Video Marketing:
SMBs that depend on video (such as YouTube, Netflix, etc.) as part of their marketing strategy could be impacted if net neutrality is eliminated. For instance, if your company streams videos to homes across the country, or if you want customers to view your company’s product videos, then there’s a probability you might be affected. Similarly, if SMBs can’t afford to pay ISPs to share their content, their prospective customers may be unable to view the product videos and may not be enticed to purchase their products. Moreover, the investment on producing and optimizing the videos will result in a financial loss. The FCC decision, thus, could have an impact on your SMB and how you are able to access the internet in the future.
As a small business owner, it’s important to understand net neutrality. The decisions being made could possibly have an impact on your small business and how you are able to access the Internet in the future.